There was buzzing excitement as the shooting began. When the archers drew their arrows the audience was expected to remain silent so not to break their concentration. Deadly seconds passed before Celeborn gave his call and only the sound one could hear was of the rushing of arrows that sped to their targets.
There were ten rounds in total and by number five it became obvious who would win the round to go to the final. From every group three archers with the best scores were permitted to participate in the finals. The closer they got to their last shot the more nervous, frustrated or happy the participants looked. Tauriel, who was wrapped in Kíli’s arms, looked at some in pity. All students at the academy were great archers but at times like these, stress and nerves brought out a different side to them. Some of them looked incredibly pale or rather red in frustration. One of the reasons she and Legolas were so good was because Thranduil had taught them how to channel their emotions, especially at times like these. One had to forget about their disappointment and push it away to feel after all the rounds were over. That way, they were able to remain deadly focused the entire time and be successful.
Finally the bell rang as the last arrows had flown. Now they were measured on their targets to determine who had won the round of the red bands. It didn’t take long before the three winners were announced. The audience cheered and Celeborn called for an interval before the next group was up.
Everyone broke into chatter, sharing their opinion to each other. For Kíli this was the time to get to know Tauriel’s friends better. Arwen he had already met a few times and he recognised Elladan from Thorin’s birthday. He found himself sitting next to Éowyn who smiled kindly, obviously not ashamed that she was as curious about him as he was of her.
“So, are you nervous?” She asked him and he smiled.
“A bit to be honest, but more excited than nervous. I can’t wait to win.” He told her and laughed as Tauriel gave him a protesting jab.
“You wish.” She muttered but there was laughter in her eyes.
“How come you’re not shooting? Tauriel couldn’t convince you to join?” And Éowyn laughed, her pale golden hair dancing around her.
“She definitely tried. Unfortunately for both of us I am quite horrid with a bow and arrow.”
“Do you have another weapon of preference then?” He jokingly asked and the blonde gave him a smirk.
“I prefer a blade if you must know.” And Kíli raised an eyebrow in response, earning him another laugh.
“I do fencing at the Rohirrim Institute together with my brother.” She told him and he heard the pride in her voice.
“No way! But then you must have met my brother Fíli, he goes there as well.” And now it was Éowyn and Éomer’s turn to look surprised. Her brother had joined the conversation at his mention.
“Hmmm I can’t remember seeing anyone like you.” She told him and Kíli laughed.
“You won’t! Fíli and I don’t look very much alike. Our parents mixed things up very well.” He said giving her a wink. “I’ll call him. He’s blond like you… come to think of it, what is it with blondes and swords?” As the rest laughed, Kíli called his brother who looked up at him in surprise. With impatient hand movements Kíli gestured him brother to come his way. Looking sceptical and slightly annoyed Fíli stoop up and made his way to him, dragging Arild along with him.
Once he arrived Kíli grinned and introduced them to the others. Arild took a seat next to Tauriel and Arwen, who immediately tried to make her feel at ease. Luckily Arild wasn’t a shy person at all and happily start to chat with the raven beauty.
“Éowyn and Éomer, meet my brother Fíli.” The three looked at each other.
“Do you recognise them?” Kíli asked his brother. “They also do fencing at the Rohirrim Institute.” But Fíli and the Rohan siblings shook their heads and Tauriel almost laughed at Kíli adorable disappointed eyes.
“No I don’t, but you do look slightly familiar, maybe we’ve seen each other pass in the halls.” Éowyn suggested and Fíli nodded.
“Yes probably. To be honest, I only go in the evenings after work and the last months have been busy so I haven’t gone as much as I’d like.”
“Éowyn and I tend to practice at weird times. Our uncle runs the institute.” Éomer said and the Durin brothers looked at them in amazement.
“No way! Wait but then you’re the White Lady!” Fíli exclaimed and then flushed in embarrassment. The rest looked at him curiously before turning to Éowyn who gained a blush as well.
“Sorry…I well… didn’t think I’d meet you or that you were really one person…There were rumours that you were related to Théoden so I just guessed…” Fíli said seeming quite unsure of himself.
“Do explain.” Arild said looking at her boyfriend with curious eyes. She’d never heard of the White Lady before.
Éowyn waved everyone’s looks away and her brother smiled knowingly.
“It’s nothing guys, it’s actually a rather funny story. There was a time when I tended to skip school just to practice fencing. Of course I didn’t want Théoden, my uncle, to find out. So instead of our green suits, I showed up wearing a completely white one. That way I went unnoticed for a while and was able to beat the shit out of most of the students.” She laughed and Faramir threw an arm around his fiancé, looking proud. “Of course it didn’t take long for Théoden to find out, he recognised my fighting style. But now during some practices and demonstrations, I’ll come in wearing that white suit. It’s good fun and apparently it has earned me a reputation.” She said looking at Fíli who smiled.
“We all thought they hired a professional to kick our butts and scare us off.”
“I am a professional.” Éowyn said and the rest laughed.
Fíli took a seat next to Arild.
“You never told me about her.” She said, giving him a pouting look, though she was obviously teasing.
“The guys all have bets going to see who would beat her. Of course none of us ever did. It hurts my pride every time I think of it, let alone tell my girlfriend that this girl has been beating me at fencing every time she shows up.” Fíli told her and she laughed before rolling her eyes and leaning to Tauriel.
“The Durins are such prideful people. I think it’s in their DNA to drop dead when they loose face.” Tauriel laughed and cuddled Kíli.
“Are you sure you want to go through with this competition love? If what Arild says is true than it will be a suicide mission.” Kíli turned to her grinning.
“You just wait! I hope you haven’t engraved your name on that trophy yet because it’s going to need to be changed to mine.”
“Talking about shooting, they’re going to begin again guys.” Arwen said and she was right. The blue bands started to come up, the Galadhrim brothers, Haldir, Rúmil and Orophin among them.
The audience grew silent as the archers took their positions and lined up their arrows. Tauriel and Kíli peered at their friends. In this group there were some brilliant archers that were trying to prove their worth. Haldir especially had improved a lot and it wouldn’t surprise them if he would join them as green master after the competition.
The first arrows had been fired and the archers turned to reload. As they did so Éomer gave a slight gasp surprising everyone.
“Who’s the girl on the right, the one with the black hair?” he whispered to no one in particular. To everyone’s surprise it was Faramir who answered.
“That’s Lothíriel, my cousin.” And Éomer looked at him in surprise. “Why do you know her?” Faramir asked, giving his future brother-in-law a sideways glance. Éomer shook his head.
“Thought she was someone else.” He muttered, looking away focusing his attention on the other archers. Tauriel caught a ghostly smile on Éowyn’s face.
“Well then she should root for her, don’t you think Éomer. She’ll be family some day.” Éowyn smiled cheekily, not looking at her brother’s reaction, who shrugged nonchalantly.
“Yeah I guess.” He said, threading a hand through his long golden hair.
The rounds passed quickly and it didn’t take too long before the scores where released. The Galadhrim brothers had all three gone to the final. Éowyn could see on her brother’s face that he was disappointed that the mysterious Lothíriel hadn’t gone through.
As the audience applauded, Kíli and Tauriel got up from their seats to get ready for their turn. Their friends wished them good luck with many smiles and thumbs up. As they walked past the rest of the Durin family, Dís and Thorin also wished them well, as did Bilbo, who in the mean time had picked up Frodo. At the sight of Tauriel, Frodo laughed, having forgotten that he had been disappointed to leave his new friends at the day care.
“Good luck! I hope you will win!” The boy chirped as Tauriel crouched down to his height, ruffling his dark curls.
“I will tell you a secret.” Tauriel whispered and the boy looked serious.
“Yes?” He breathed, his eyes sparkling.
“I will win just for you, because you bring me luck.”
“Really? But you’re the fairy, you bring luck.” The boy disagreed but happy he was let in on this secret.
“Oh but you do. I’ll show you.” Tauriel laughed.
“Okay.” Frodo agreed. Maybe he did bring her luck, she would know.
With a final wave the couple disappeared to the changing rooms. Kíli grinned and threw an arm over her shoulders.
“You’re amazing with kids.” He said and she blushed slightly.
“No, not really, he’s just adorable, he can’t be hard to amuse.” And Kíli slightly shook his head.
“You need a lot of patience with him. The boy always had his head in the clouds, dreaming about magical creatures and lands.”
“Why is that a bad thing?”
“It’s not per se a bad thing, it’s just that he doesn’t stop. Bilbo says he thinks it’s because he lost his parents so young and suddenly, that he is building these imaginary worlds to shield himself from reality.”
“Quite understandable, though I see your worry.”
“Do you know what he calls himself, miss fairy?”
“Hobbit? What a funny sounding name!” Tauriel laughed and Kíli grinned as well.
“Apparently Fíli and I are dwarves…” and this made her laugh even louder.
“Well you are rather small.” And Kíli looked at her like a wounded puppy.
“Compared to you and your insanely tall friends yes. The people I grew up with are my height or shorter.”
“Let’s hope that will help you right now.” Tauriel winked and leaned to him, giving him a kiss on his stubble cheek. “Good luck.” And he smiled.
“You too!” before both disappeared into the changing rooms.
It didn’t take long before they reappeared, clad in their silver uniforms as they headed to the warming up area. Tauriel picked up her bow, letting her hand travel along its smooth lines. The motion had a calming effect on her. She would need that to win. She had to win, not so much for herself of course but for Legolas and Frodo. And now that Thranduil was here as well there wasn’t any choice. She looked over at Kíli, who smiled at her and told hold of her hand, giving it a squeeze.
“It appears we’ve come to a critical turning point in our relationship.” He began seriously and she raised a questioning eyebrow. “How will we handle each other during such an important competition.” And then he broke and grinned widely. “Will you still love me after this?” and Tauriel laughed.
“You fool, don’t scare me like that!” she said whacking his arm.
“I didn’t mean to scare you, but that doesn’t answer my question.” He said.
“Liar, you definitely did, but to answer you question, I think our love is strong enough to handle it. What do you think?” She replied with a grin of her own. Kíli shrugged his shoulders.
“No doubt we’ll survive.” And he winked at her before pulling her to him and giving her a kiss.
Then they were signalled to come up. With one final look at each other Kíli and Tauriel went to their assigned positions. It was time to start.
She focused intently on her target, guiding her third arrow into the right direction. When it was perfectly positioned she froze. Slowly she relaxed her shoulders as Kíli had taught her and then she waited for Celeborn’s call. The first two had been perfectly centred bull’s-eyes so this one had to be too, just like every other arrow in order to win. She counted down in her head as she wondered how Kíli was doing; probably incredibly well. His technique tended to differ a lot from hers and the rest of the academy, but he was amazingly good and Tauriel felt proud of him every time he shot an arrow.
“Leithian!” came the signal and Tauriel released, feeling a rush of energy go through her as the arrow slipped between her fingers. Her eyes trailed its feathered end as if that would help it reach its destination. At the sound of a thud she smirked as it had hit dead centre. Only then did she hear the other arrows hitting their targets with thuds that sounded like gunshots. She was used to hearing that sound, but right now something clicked in her mind. She’d heard that sound before – but not on an archery shooting range. No, she’s heard it somewhere where it didn’t belong. Somewhere where it was supposed to be safe. She was digging for memories that seemed hidden away in the dark far corners of her mind. Briefly she saw darkness and one word rang through her mind – closet. The sound of muffled gunshots rang through her ears until they were followed by a high-pitched scream.
Tauriel blinked and shook her head as Celeborn’s command brought her attention back. He had signalled for them to pick up their fourth arrow. Feeling dazed, Tauriel turned slightly to pick up one from the quiver behind her. She looked at the audience, who all looked at her and the rest with great interest, but she wasn’t focused on them. Instead her eyes found two pale blue ones looking straight at her. Focus they told her. She rolled back her shoulders and grabbed an arrow. Now was not the time to daydream – focus Tauriel, focus. Celeborn’s voice rang again and she released. Another deadly hit.
Thranduil couldn’t take his eyes of Tauriel, his little girl, the daughter he never had. Something was off. He’d seen it immediately, the ever so slight shift in her stance after her third arrow. The stiffness in her back told him something was wrong. The way she turned and looked straight at him had only been a confirmation. Something was haunting her and he was almost certain he knew what it was. Memories. But why now? Why at all? She had hidden them so deep she herself had forgotten, and if he hadn’t seen it first hand, he never would have known what had happened. He didn’t want her to relive them like he did – she didn’t need that burden.
Elrond shifted beside him.
“Is Tauriel alright?” His friend asked and Thranduil wasn’t sure whether to praise or curse the man’s keen eyesight and observation skills. But there was no need for him to enlighten his friend, not yet at least. So Thranduil turned to him and gave him a rare smile.
“She’s fine.” And then he chuckled softly before proudly turning back to the archers. “She’s winning.”
Kíli didn’t feel any sense of disappointment when he was called up second, differing only one point, one meagre, tiny point with first place. But Tauriel’s last shot had been a millimetre better than his. Not that he cared. He felt incredibly happy when the thick silver medal hung from his neck. He revelled at the sight of seeing his love standing in the spotlight, her hair catching the light, becoming a fiery halo all around her. With such grace, she bent over to receive the golden medal from Galadriel before looking at him with an adorable grin on her face. He decided she looked very becoming from above, and with their deal for tonight it made his loss feel even sweeter.
There was loud applause. Haldir had proven his entire being, gleaming happily with the bronze medal around his neck. The three of them descended the stage and were quickly swarmed by family and friends. But before answering anyone, Tauriel made sure to give Kíli a hard and passionate kiss.
“You deserve this more than I do.” She murmured and Kíli laughed.
“What’s this? First you go on about how you’ll beat me and now you want to share? You surprise me my love.” And she smiled.
“We were so close, we should have tied.”
“Darling, I am very proud of this silver plate, I don’t think I want to trade. Besides silver looks much better on me than gold.” He said and she laughed.
“Well alright then!” And he was rewarded by another kiss. They were interrupted by small Frodo, whose eyes and smile were so wide, Kíli hoped it wouldn’t hurt him.
“That was amazing! All those arrows and then, and then…wow! You were so close! Can I try too?” the boy was bouncing on his toes in excitement, giving the couple his best practiced puppy eyes. Thankfully they were saved by Bilbo, who placed a firm hand on Frodo’s shoulder.
“Absolutely not! But I am sure they wouldn’t object to you watching them shoot, as long as you behave of course.” Bilbo said and Kíli tried not to laugh when Frodo rolled his huge eyes and his face scrunched up in disappointment. But the man ignored his nephew and ward and instead shook hands of both of them.
“Congratulations both of you. It was absolutely magnificent to watch. I had to catch myself not to fall off my chair in excitement and trying to see everything clearly, it all happens rather quickly.”
“Thanks Bilbo, I appreciate that you came here.” Kíli said and Bilbo laughed.
“But of course my dear boy! It was a privilege to watch and Frodo obviously enjoyed himself immensely.” At his name Frodo nodded heavily and smiling Tauriel sank down to her knees, ruffling his hair. Then she lifted the medal over her head and placed it over his, until the large medal rested on his small chest. His big grew even bigger as did those of the people around him. Kíli smiled, knowing exactly what she was doing.
“There,” she said smiling, “I told you you’d bring me luck. So I think you should have it.”
“R…really? You mean it?” Frodo stuttered and Bilbo looked in shock.
“Yes, are you sure Tauriel? I mean I appreciate the gesture but you won this competition by yourself.” He said looking unsurely between her and Kíli.
“I am sure Bilbo, I want Frodo to have it.” She said giving him a smile.
“I well… then, Frodo what do you say?” At this Frodo bowed very deeply, and Tauriel hoped he won’t fall over.
“Thank you so much Tauriel!”
“It’s my pleasure.”
“Frodo and I will make sure it will get the most beautiful in Bag End to reside on.” Bilbo promised her earnestly.
“That’s great.” She laughed and felt Kíli wrap an arm around as she stood up.
“Well we won’t keep you up much longer, I know there are plenty of others that want to talk to you. I am afraid we can’t go to the after celebration. We have to catch our train back to the Shire in the early morning.”
“That’s alright. It was great to see you again Bilbo and have you around. I hope to see you again soon, not like last time.” Kíli said and Bilbo laughed.
“Oh yes of course. I am planning a next visit in the near future. Although do know that you are always welcome in Bag End, both of you that is.” He said and the couple smiled.
“We’ll definitely remember that.” Kíli said smiling.
They turned to the others who congratulated them enthusiastically. At one point they got separated talking to many different people. As Kíli stood with his family Tauriel saw Thranduil approach her. There was a light smile on his face.
“Congratulations Tauriel. You shot magnificently.”
“I am proud of you.” And Tauriel gave him a slight bow of her head.
“That means a lot to me. I am glad you came to watch.”
“Yes it had been a while. Legolas would be very happy. You’ve spoken to him?”
“Yes I have. He’s doing well.”
“Good.” Then Thranduil paused and looked at her intently and he appeared to feel uncomfortable, which was a surprising emotion to see on him. “Tauriel, I couldn’t help but notice you seemed… distracted during the shooting. Is there anything I should know?” and she almost felt embarrassed. She shook her head slightly.
“I don’t think so, it was just a bit odd… but probably just the stress playing up.”
“Yes of course. Well, I am going to have to leave. We’ll talk about it some other time. I’ll be gone for a few days, there are some things I have to attend to.”
“Oh of course. When will you be back?”
“End of the week probably.”
“Okay, well good luck, have a safe trip.”
“Thank you. Have a good week here and have a good time at the party. You and Elrond’s sons will Riverdance right?”
“Yes, It’s become a tradition.”
“Have fun Tauriel.”
“Thank you. I will see you soon.” And Thranduil nodded, ready to walk away, before he turned one final time, his eyes gazing to where Kíli was standing. Then he turned back to Tauriel. “The boy is not as bad as I thought.”
“And that’s a huge compliment coming from you.”
“You misunderstand me, it’s not a compliment, rather an observation.” But Tauriel smiled nonetheless.
“A good observation then.” And Thranduil gave a smile of his own.